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American Prose: 1830-1930|
On passing over the Hudson River, at the height of one thousand seven hundred yards, Manhattan Island, at the junction of the above mentioned river and the Easter River, on which many vessels were passing each other in various directions, looking as if they were toy-boats floating on a little brook, seemed to be about eight feet in length, but, by degrees, it diminished more and more in apparent size as we went farther and higher. As we ascended, the horizon gradually expanded and its diameter grew sensibly greater. We had a very wonderful panoramic view of Long Island, covered with many white villages, extending from the East River to the verge of the eastern horizon, of the vast expanse of the majestic deep, of the Narrows, of our harbor, of Newtown Creek in Long Island, of Staten Island, and of the picturesque and romantic Highlands through which the Hudson winds its way as far as the eye could reach.
On traversing Wehawken, New Jersey, about two miles from Hoboken toward the north-west, we looked toward the panorama of the eastern regions, in which every object of nature and art, at an immense distance from us, diminished in apparent size till it dwindled to a mere black speck, and at last was entirely lost to the sight. We had a splendid view of Newark and several other villages in New Jersey, of dim, distant mountains in the western horizon, among which were some in Pennsylvania, and of innumerable winding streams of water on the earth. The variegated fields resembled an assemblage of colored cards, the roads through the fields seemed like long narrow brown ribbons, and the salt meadows through which many rivers flow from the distant northern mountains into Newark Bay and which are covered with stacks of hay, seemed like a piece of brown velvet, ornamented with silver ribbons and raised figures of needle-work. As we sailed over the state of New Jersey, Mons. Godard frequently looked at his splendid circular barometer, which he had received as a present from Mons. J. B. Monont, the same day, for the purpose of calculating his course and directing his movements.
At length, Mons. Godard made his balloon descend, and as we approached the earth, we were much amused to see many flocks of sheep, cattle, and horses in the pastures, setting off at full speed, in consequences of taking fright at the balloon. As we neared the salt meadows, we directed our eyes toward the beautiful shadow of the balloon, gliding along the surface of a creek. The balloon landed in the meadow with as much ease as that with which a bird can perch on the branch of a tree. It then ascended again, and as we passed among the branches of the trees, Mons. Godard plucked some twigs, which he made us a present of, as a token of remembrance of our aerial voyage. We then rose to a very considerable elevation, greater than the first time, and at the height of four miles, all the natural objects were almost invisible to the naked eye. The surface of the earth seemed to become concave and the visible objects appeared to converge together to the centre looking as if they were depressed, while the parts near the horizon seemed to become nearly convex. When we descended from the above-mentioned elevation, the surface, which before appeared so concave, seemed gradually to swell up, and the visible objects seemed to move from the centre. The horizon, rolling down before the sky, diminished in size, and its diameter grew sensibly smaller, and many objects, previously lost to the sight, increasing in apparent size, became visible.
As we were passing over a large and dense collection of trees covered with deciduous foliage, having a resemblance to garden flowers, at the distance of a few miles from Hackensack, our luminary, as he was about to go down into the western horizon, transmitted his very resplendent rays through the clouds in divergent directions. After he had sunk down behind the horizon below us, the face of the earth was covered with darkness, but his red light was cast on the side of the balloon, as if he were winking at us. When he had hidden himself below the horizon, the beautiful purple painted on the western sky, by degrees faded, and the horizon absorbed the solar light, till at last as the darkness increased, the immense expanse of the heavens was adorned with numberless points of light. The light of the lunar crescent at the same time appeared, and reflected from the surface of the Passaic River, seemed to the naked eye twenty times as great as that directly cast by the moon itself.
At seven o’clock, Mons. Godard cast down a long rope without an anchor being attached to it, in order, I think, that through its medium, sounds might be communicated from the ground to the balloon, as soon as the rope should touch. The balloon remained stationary in the air for half an hour.
On passing a village illuminated with gas, we perceived the Passaic Falls, presenting a scene of singular beauty and grandeur, and thus knew the village to be Paterson. The balloon descended some distance from the height of three miles, and then proceeded about nine miles from Paterson, toward the north. I had an exceeding great desire to continue traveling over the face of the earth to a greater distance, but Mons. Godard thought it best to drop the balloon, because he was not sure what villages or public roads he should find in the northern part of New Jersey. When he stopped the balloon by opening the valve at the top of it and thus letting the gas escape, it descended very slowly, and landed at a place on the mountains denominated “Pond’s,” at ten o’clock p.m. After touching the earth, we assisted Mons. Godard in compressing the balloon with the net until it was empty, and we spent some time in packing it in a large sack. At eleven o’clock we made a triumphant entrance into Paterson, whence we returned to New York by railroad at midnight. I arrived at the Institution at two o’clock in the morning, with a feeling of exultation and delight such as I had never experienced in my life before.
On Tuesday afternoon, the 21st of November, the writer had the pleasure of taking another excursion of the same kind with Mons. Godard, who was accompanied by Mons. Decan of Paris, and Señor Arrietta of Havana. Starting from the Hippodrome at four o’clock, we ascended swiftly in a hypothenuse line to a considerable elevation. Mons. Godard showed himself, on this occasion, the most wonderful aerial navigator and most audacious gymnast in the world. Taking his seat on a “trapezium” consisting of an iron rod, suspended at each end from his aerial ship by ropes twenty feet in length, he intrepidly waved his hat to a great number of the assembled ladies and gentlemen both within and around the Hippodrome. When two hundred and twenty yards up, he cut loose a parachute, to which was attached a car containing two living rabbits; and it descended without precipitation to Madison Square with the animals unhurt. He then commenced the performance of gymnastic feats on the trapezium in the air, making the spectators tremble in their shoes and their hair stand on end.
At one time he rolled over and over the rod of the trapezium; at another time, grasping it with a single hand, he swung his body to and fro; then hung himself on it with his chin only and then suspended himself on it head downward by his right foot, and rolled up to the trapezium again. He then tied a long rope round his right ankle, and, after swinging on the trapezium several times, each time going higher and higher, threw himself from it sixty feet and swung head downward in the air. Finally climbing up the rope to the trapezium, he tied another rope around his waist, and hoisted himself up to the aerial ship by means of a pulley fastened to the hoop above our heads, insinuated himself into the car.